2019 Numlock Sunday Specials Archive

2019 Sunday Editions

I wanted to have a place for all the collected subscriber-only Sunday interviews all in one place. If you’d like to read these and aren’t sure if you want to subscribe, I’ve made it really easy to sign up for a one month free trial to the paid subscription and read whatever you like.

January 2019


I spoke to Katherine Ellen Foley of Quartz who wrote “There are roughly 27 tons of garbage in Yosemite thanks to the government shutdown.”  Katherine can be found at Quartz but also has a newsletter of her own called Scrap Facts, a weekly roundup of the stuff she learns on the job that doesn’t make it into her stories.

China’s Corruption Crackdown

I spoke to Peter Lorentzen, a University of San Francisco economist who wrote a fascinating paper with Xi Lu of the National University of Singapore about what really went down in a Chinese corruption purge. Peter is great at Twitter and is launching a really cool Master’s program in applied economics.

Personality Testing

I spoke to my friend and former colleague Maggie Koerth-Baker, a science writer at FiveThirtyEight. about a fascinating story about personality test the Big Five she wrote with Julia Wolfe. Maggie can be found on FiveThirtyEight and on Twitter.

California Football

I spoke to Michael Weinreb of The Ringer who a few weeks ago wrote “The Fight Over the Future of Football Has Become a Battle for California’s Soul”. I wanted to pick Michael’s brain about the many sides of this issue and why California is interesting from both a football and political standpoint. Michael is a freelance writer available for hire, and his work can be found at his website and The Ringer.

February 2019

Good To Go

I spoke to Christie Aschwanden, author of Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, busts recovery myths, dives into the actual science and is full of cool stories in a field too often hit with pseudoscience products. Christie can be found on Twitter, and you can grab a copy of Good to Gohere.

New Zealand

I spoke to Dan Kopf of Quartz, who this past week wrote “New Zealand may soon join the more-tourists-than-residents club.” We spoke about how tourism can change countries, why New Zealand is about to enter the rarefied group of nations with more guests than residents, and his cool beat. Dan can be found on Twitter and at Quartz.


I spoke to Josh Dzieza, who wrote “Why CAPTCHAs Have Gotten So Difficult” for the Verge’s Real World AI Issue.Josh can be found on Twitter and at the Verge


I spoke to Elizabeth Nolan Brown who wrote “Are You a Woman Traveling Alone? Marriott Might Be Watching You.” She’s been consistently covering the story of how laws that come from a place of good intentions are being weaponized by parts of the government to crack down on women, people of color, and mixed families. Brown can be found at Reason and on Twitter. She’s also the co-founder of Feminists for Liberty

March 2019

Gene Therapy

I spoke to Max Nisen of Bloomberg Opinion. Max covers pharmaceutical pricing and the health care business, and I wanted to chat with him about gene therapies, those new and wildly expensive ways that companies are treating challenging diseases. Max can be found at Bloombergon Twitter and at his food newsletter Fresser.


I spoke to my friend Alison Griswold, who a few weeks ago wrote about the perilous math behind the scooter craze in her wonderful newsletterOversharing. I loved this because Alison basically stripped an entire business model to the bone and flagged serious concerns about the simple ability of it to remain viable. Alison’s work about the sharing economy can be found at Oversharing, a newsletter I personally love.

65 is the new 50

I spoke to Eugene Steuerle who wrote Has Society Gotten Older or Younger?a paper at The Urban Institute. We spoke about how the question of “what is old?” is a thorny one with trillions of dollars at stake and how our current definition has hamstrung a generation of policy-making. Cool stuff! Steuerle can be found on Twitter and at his blog, The Government We Deserve.

Late Night

I spoke to Morning Consult’s Sarah Shevenock who wrote As Late-Night Hosts Get Political, Audiences Get Divided.Sarah can be found at Morning Consult.

Stadiums & Casinos

I spoke to Pat Garofalo, the author of The Billionaire Boondoggle. This week, we spoke about how stadiums get made, how the Bass Pro Shop has taken a billion dollars to make more Bass Pro Shops, and how the advantages of casinos got flipped. Pat can be found at @Pat_Garofalo, and The Billionaire Boondoggle can be found wherever books are sold, or online at places like IndieBound or Barnes & Noble.

April 2019

Film Incentives

Part two of my chat with Pat Garofalo, the author of The Billionaire Boondoggle. This week, we talked Hollywood, and how states are spending oodles of money on film productions that aren’t benefiting them all that much. Pat can be found at @Pat_Garofalo, and The Billionaire Boondoggle can be found wherever books are sold, or online at places like IndieBound or Barnes & Noble.

No One Man Should Have All That Power

I spoke to Amos Barshad, the author of No One Man Should Have All That Power. It’s all about Rasputins and Svengalis and all the shadowy figures who operate behind-the-scenes to make stars, and I am really loving the book. The book can be found at Amazon and sellers near you, it’s a really enjoyable read. 

Summer Movies

I spoke to CNN’s Frank Pallotta, a media reporter who I wanted to check in with the weekend before what may very well be the largest opening weekend at the box office in quite some time. Frank can be found at CNN and at his Twitter.

Saving the World

I spoke to Kelsey Piper who wrote “Warning people off tainted drinking water may have killed children.” We spoke about the wells story, plus the real results that stem from healthy people volunteering to get malaria to help find a cure, the trouble with disaster relief and how scaling up global health solutions is really hard. Kelsey can be found at Vox’s Future Perfect, her wonderful blog The Unit of Caring and on Twitter at @kelseytuoc.

May 2019


I spoke to Lina Zeldovich who wrote Ships Scrub Up to Meet New Pollution Standard in Hakai Magazine. I loved this story because it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes at the quest for technologies that can attack big problems like climate change, and how sometimes there are massive trade-offs that need to be seriously considered. Lina can be found on her Twitter and at her website.


I spoke to Derek Thompson, a Numlock regular who writes for The Atlantic. Last week saw the release of the new season of his wonderful podcast, Crazy/Genius. We spoke about the forthcoming season of the show, how the concept of privacy is a fairly new invention, how we’re potentially missing one of the largest stories of the internet because it’s uncomfortable to talk about it. Derek and Crazy/Genius can be found at The Atlantic and wherever podcasts can be found.

Box Office Forecasting

Part one of an interview with Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer who wrote “Box Office Trackers Can’t Crack the MCU Code” all about how the box office projections we all hear about actually get made. Ben can be found at The Ringer and his twitter and has two books, The Only Rule Is It Has To Workand the forthcoming The MVP Machine can be found wherever books are sold.


Part two of an interview with Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer. This was about his new book, The MVP Machine. Ben can be found at The Ringer and his twitter and his two books, The Only Rule Is It Has To Work and the forthcoming The MVP Machine can be found wherever books are sold

June 2019

Amber Fossils

I spoke to Joshua Sukol who wrote “Troubled Treasure”in Science, about the human cost of amber from conflict zones. Josh’s story is absolutely riveting, and we talked about how it came together and the issues and hard choices at the core of the conflict. Josh can be found on Twitter and you should also check out an outstanding piece he wrote about the unsung women behind the invention of chaos theory.

Kylie Jenner

I spoke to Laura Stampler who wrote Kylie Jenner Is Giving Birth—to a Baby Retail Empire. Laura can be found on her Twitter and Instagram, her work is often found at Fortune, and her young adult novel Little Black Dresses, Little White Liesis available wherever you get books.

Baltimore Crab Shacks

I spoke to Christine Zhang and Christina Tkacik of the Baltimore Sun. They’re the reporters behind the story “Old Bay gets all the credit. Meet J.O., the seasoning that crab houses use,” a story that rocked me to my core and prompted me to question the very nature of my reality. Christine can be found on Twitter and is one of my favorite data journalists, Christina can also be found on Twitter and covers the Baltimore food scene, and they both can be found at the Baltimore Sun.

Department Stores & Champion

I spoke to Jordyn Holman of Bloomberg who wrote “Manhattan’s Newest Flagship Department Stores Are Ignoring the Retail Apocalypse.” We spoke about what makes Manhattan so fascinating retail-wise and also talked about her earlier story “Champion Accidentally Hit the Fashion Jackpot.” Jordyn can be found at Bloomberg and on Twitter.

Drive Thru Dreams

I spoke to Adam Chandler, the author of the book Drive Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom. The book is a social history of fast food, a recurring topic in Numlock, and gets into how these restaurants got so popular and the unique and complicated place that fast food inhabits in society. It’s a really, really fun read. Adam can be found on Twitter and the book can be found anywhere books are sold

July 2019

100% Renewable Grid

I spoke to Peter Fairley who a few weeks ago wrote The Hot Mess of Hawai‘i’s Renewable Power Push. Peter can be found on Twitter and at his website. He also wrote a fascinating L.A. Times op-ed about the health impact of the fires in California that is worth a read.


I spoke to Sharon Levy who wrote “The hidden strengths of freshwater mussels” in the wonderful Knowable Magazine. You can find Sharon’s work at her website and you should check out the book she mentions later on in the in the story, The Marsh Builders, available wherever books are sold.


I spoke to Jodi Helmer who a few weeks ago wrote The Environmental Downside of Marijuana Cultivation. Jodi can be found on Twitter and just came out with a super cool book called Protecting Pollinators: How to save the creatures that feed our worldthat is worth checking out!

Artificial Intelligence

Part one of an interview with Karen Hao who wrote Training a single AI model can emit as much carbon as five cars in their lifetimes in MIT Technology Review. This week, everything you need to know about what AI actually is these days, where you can spot it in the wild and just how much energy training it consumes. Karen can be found on Twitter and she has a great newsletter about AI called The Algorithm.

August 2019

Deep Fakes

Part two of an interview with Karen Hao. This week, we talked about the fundamental ambitions of AI, what’s most surprising in the field, and the story behind why we have deepfakes now. Karen can be found on Twitter and she has a great newsletter about AI called The Algorithm.


I spoke to Andrew P. Collins who a few weeks ago wrote That Big Rig You're Passing Might Be Full of Bees. Collins and I spoke about the new documentary feature that goes into so much of this, as well as what else he learned when researching this, including the existence of bee rustlers.


I spoke to Valerie Bauerlein of the Wall Street Journal who last week wrote “Snakebites Hit Record Highs in Southern States as Suburbs Expand”. Valerie Bauerlein is a national reporter and so her work extends far beyond snakes and their bites, her work can be found at The Wall Street Journal.

The Sterling Affairs

I spoke to my former FiveThirtyEight colleague Jody Avirgan, who was the producer of ESPN’s 30 for 30 podcast that had just launched season five, “The Sterling Affairs.” Hosted by journalist Ramona Shelburn, it took listeners through the tumultuous events that roiled the NBA after an owner was caught on tape making racially disparaging remarks. 

September 2019

The Rat Spill

Part one of an interview with Sarah Gilman who wrote one of my favorite stories of the whole year, The Rat Spill, for Hakai Magazine. It’s about what rats do that makes them so destructive and just what it takes to keep them out. It also includes a mild diversion into the history of these two islands — the Pribilof Islands — that was fascinating to me. Sarah can be found at Hakai Magazine and is on Twitter, and the story is here.

Invasive Species

The second of a two-part interview with Sarah Gilman about The Rat Spill which she wrote for Hakai Magazine. Sarah can be found at Hakai and is on Twitter. Her work can be found at her website and as she also did the illustration you can find more of her art here.

Chris Ingraham

I spoke to Chris Ingraham, a Washington Post reporter who covers data stories about the economy and the world. Chris wrote a great book called If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now: Why We Traded the Commuting Life for a Little House on the Prairie. The book is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.


I spoke to Yusra Murad who just last week wrote wroteJuul Takes a Hit After a Long Yearat Morning Consult. We spoke about how calamitously Juul’s fortunes have turned, what has to happen for something to become the second-most disliked company, and what is the most disliked company. Yusra can be found at Morning Consult, where she writes their healthcare newsletter, and is on Twitter @ymurad__.


I spoke to Rebecca Boyle who wrote “The Dark Side of Light” for The Atlantic.Rebecca can be found on Twitter, her website and writes for The Atlanticand The New York Times.

October 2019

Concussion Snake Oil

I spoke to Christie Aschwanden who wrote Football’s Concussion Crisis is Awash in Pseudoscience for Wired. Christie can be found at her website, on Twitter, and at Wired. Her book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, is wonderful and available wherever books are sold. You should also check out her podcast, Emerging Form.

Game of Thrones

I spoke to my friend Kim Renfro, who wrote The Unofficial Guide to Game of Thrones. We spoke about how Game of Thrones helped her break into media, how it bridges a gap between two completely different eras of television, and what the future looks like for TV in a post-Thrones world. Kim can be found at Insider, on Twitter, and the book is available wherever books are sold.


I spoke to Pat Garofalo, he’s the author of The Billionaire Boondoggle who also writes the newsletter Boondoggle, which is a personal favorite of mine covering the maddening, crazy politics of local tax incentives, particularly his post How Wrestlemania Body Slammed New Jersey. Pat can be found at his newsletter, Boondoggle, and check out his book.

Open Borders

I spoke to Bryan Caplan, the author of the new book Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration which was created with Zach Weinersmith. Open Borders is available on AmazonBarnes and Noble really wherever books are sold now. You can find Bryan at his website and blog and Zack at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

November 2019

Voting Machines

I spoke to Jessica Huseman who wrote “The Market for Voting Machines Is Broken. This Company Has Thrived in It” for ProPublica. Jessica is on Twitter and can be found at ProPublica, where they have Electionland 2020, an outstanding resource for information on election registration and voting rights.


I spoke to Dave Gershgorn who wrote “This Is How the U.S. Military’s Massive Facial Recognition System Works” for OneZero. Dave can be found at OneZero and on Twitter.


I spoke to Adam Minter who wrote Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. We spoke about the thriving repair culture in Ghana, why it’s not just new items getting imported across borders, and how the entire thriving Arizona thrift store business depends on trade with Mexico.Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Salecan be found wherever books are sold.

Kylie Cosmetics

I spoke to Kim Bhasin, Bloomberg’s reporter who covers the cosmetics, jewelry and luxury beats, about Kylie Jenner selling her makeup company at a valuation of $1.2 billion.

December 2019


I spoke to Sarah Kessler who wrote “The High-Stakes Race to Breed Cannabis With 0% THC” for OneZero. Kessler can be found at OneZero and on Twitter.


I spoke to Emily Atkin who writes the newsletter Heated. I personally love Heated, so it was a great chance to talk to her about the state of climate reporting and why she struck out on her own to cover it.


I spoke to Maya Kosoff who wrote “Big Calculator: How Texas Instruments Monopolized Math Class” for Gen. We spoke about Texas Instruments, how a semiconductor giant got in this weird educational side hustle, and the real secret to getting a good deal on a TI-84. Maya can be found on Twitter @mekosoff and she’s got a media newsletter at maya.substack.com.


Joanna Piacenza, the senior data editor at Morning Consult, is back to wrap up the year. To cap off 2019 she wrote about when people give up on resolutions. Joanna can be found at Morning Consult and on Twitter.